Speaking to a gathering of Baby Boomers, I suggested professorially, “We are a product of the generation we grew up in” and proceeded to talk about my grandparents and their life during the depression. As my brother made clear without saying so, it didn’t sound like a very interesting subject but the people listening to the presentation seemed to enjoy it and I enjoyed giving it…nah, nah…nah, nah, nah! Only a handful fell asleep.
My grandparents were defined by the age of the Great Depression and to a certain extent, World War Two. If stories are to be believed, they certainly did their part during the war but continued to “live” the depression right up until the day they died. My parents? The depression and World War Two, of course, along with the era of American Exceptionalism.
As I drove home, I thought about my life and the history that had defined it. Somewhere around the small town of Blacksburg, I began to think about hippies. An idle mind can be a terrible thing.
I was aware of hippies, as I was aware of the Cold War, Viet Nam, and the Civil Rights movement. I was aware from a distance. I was also aware of the protests of the Sixties that went with these events, all playing out in black and white while my brother and I ate our Swanson’s TV dinners watching Walter Cronkite on TV. Sometimes it was hard to stomach, the TV dinners and the evening news.
The events of the Sixties and early Seventies helped mold my beliefs, but I didn’t realize how much until recently. I also knew, despite the flattop I wore in the mid-Sixties, I felt a tug toward the counter-culture, one I withstood until recently.
I’ve always felt I was in a battle with two generations, one wearing conservative oxford cloth and khaki, the other a more liberal tie-dye and denim. Lately, the generation of Weejuns is losing to the generation of “Jesus” sandals.
I have become more “hippie-like” as I have slogged into my “autumn” years and wonder if it is “my generation” defining me or was it my grandmother’s attitude toward her world. No, my grandmother was not a hippie, but she had some hippie like attitudes. Some attitudes one might attribute to the greatest hippie cult leader of all, Jesus of Nazareth.
Beliefs the earth’s bounties should be protected and shared with each other and future generations, loving thy neighbor as thyself, and despite her prejudices of the day, live and let live regardless of race, creed, color or religious affiliation. No, she wasn’t perfect…well…except in my eyes.
Raised in the church she was devout but more to the point, she was spiritual and rooted solidly in the earth. She planted and fished by the phases of the moon, seasonal “signs” and the Farmer’s Almanac. Connected to the depression, she lived by the three ‘R’s’; recycle, repurpose, reuse. Nothing was ever thrown away unless the question, “Can I use this for something else?” was answered. Yep, my hippie grandmother.
Often, I feel I am an oddity, a “seasoned” man of Caucasian persuasion who has grown more liberal as he has grown older…more liberal than just adopting blue jeans and tee shirts as his primary wardrobe choice since retiring. Is it that I’ve become more liberal or has liberalism grown more me? Despite my question, I’ve decided the term hippie transcends the poles of a political spectrum.
When I say hippie, I’m not talking about those who didn’t walk the walk. Sometimes “hippie” is used as a broad stroke. There has been much written about Haight-Ashbury’s “Summer of Love”, the Grateful Dead, and Timothy O’Leary’s slogan, “Turn on, tune in, drop out”.
I understand the message but believe there were those in attendance just for the drugs, music, and the siren’s call of “free love.” Mr. Khaki and Oxford Cloth did none of those things…certainly, I never turned on and making love never came without a price tag…but if “marijahoochie” becomes legal in my part of the world…I might turn on…especially as my arthritis gets worse. Okay, I would turn on for sure and maybe I’ve already dropped out.
Many young people walked the walk desiring to make the world a better place, idealistically believing they could stand up against “the man.” Some weren’t hippies at all, just young people who thought the war was wrong, all people were created equally, and had no desire to become radioactive dust. They wanted to create a positive life and were simply lumped into the counter-culture with the long-haired, Commie, hippy freak, “make love, not war”, ni@@%^ loving bunch. Lumped by the conservative right or “Moral Majority”, something still happening today. Lumped despite the crewcuts that didn’t allow for “wear(ing) flowers in (their) hair.”1
We have enclaves of “hippie freak” types in areas around us…especially in the rougher and more isolated areas of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Not exactly communes, they are more like small villages of likeminded people, some living in small cabins, motor homes or aged out school buses. All attempting to reduce their footprint on the face of the earth. Most just want to live and let live while loving their neighbors no matter their sexual preference, skin color or religious affiliation. I might add, regardless of political affiliation. A lesson we should all learn from I believe.
“Hippies” living a life of self-reliance, the artsy types welding sculptures made from iron collected from the side of the road or junkyard. Creating colorful paper from kudzu vines and leaves collected from the hillsides near their homes. Potters throwing local clay and molding it into interesting desirables. A particularly old “hippie” living near me creates sculptures from the burl wood he searches for from the seat of his wheelchair. They are all quite liberal in belief…except when they are not.
Others live off the land, creating, and selling organically grown food…and drink…and certain inhalables. Some create moonshine legally, others not so much. Some grow marijuana in amongst their tomato and eggplants. They come from all sides of the political spectrum, united with the belief that the government shouldn’t restrict their freedom of expression and leisure activities.
They still have causes, liberal only because they wish to effect change. Like me, many folks in my “Dark Corner”2 are concerned about the water and air we breathe and drink and the environment we will leave behind to future generations.
I attended a gathering of like-minded people who were attempting to halt the domestication of a wild, local river in the name of progress. The meeting was attended by trout fishermen, tree hugging, Sierra Club environmentalist types, and good ole boys who were just worried about the effects a lack of environmental management might have on their “tax-free” alcohol production. I’m guessing there were more than a few folks attending who preferred to take their herbal supplements in deeply inhaled form.
Weejuns, brogans, work boots, Keen sandals, and motorcycle boots were all found under a picnic table, their wearers breaking bread…well…pulling pork and drinking beer. There was as much flannel as tie-dye, khaki as denim, buzz cuts as long hair. From this and other gatherings, the environmental advocacy group, “Save the Saluda”, was born. My grandmother would have approved.
I’m happy to see young people or those young at heart standing up for issues they believe in, those who peacefully take to the streets or rally for a cause. I don’t agree with some of their causes. I don’t have to and they shouldn’t care. They aren’t my causes. Like my “hippie” neighbors, they come in all shapes and sizes, buzz cuts to long hair, tee shirts and oxford cloth, high school seniors and lifetime seniors. All want their voices heard.
As I made my landfall from Blacksburg, I still didn’t exactly know what a hippie was or if I am one. I just know for me it is more state of mind than where I sit on a political spectrum, or whether I choose oxford cloth or tie-dye. Let’s tie-dye our oxford cloth. Please label me if you must, I will wear a liberal, hippie freak badge proudly. Just remember, it is your label for me, not mine. I am much more than a label…as are you.
“And the sign said, “Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray”
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all
I didn’t have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said, ‘Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine'”3
- San Fransico (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) sung by Scott McKenzie and written by John Phillips. Verse paraphrased by me to fit.
- The “Dark Corner” of South Carolina is the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills area of Greenville and Spartanburg Counties, known for resisting nullification and embracing illegal moonshine production during the Great Depression.
- Signs, sung by The Five Man Electrical Band and written by Les Emmerson
For other musings by Don Miller go to his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM
Image from https://hippiesonhaight.weebly.com/summer-of-love.html